“Introduction to the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)
“Galatians,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual
The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians was written to Jewish Christians who were straying from the Lord by relying once again on the works of the law of Moses. The Apostle Paul sought to correct this problem by emphasizing the difference between the burdensome “yoke” of the law of Moses, which led to spiritual bondage, and the gospel of Jesus Christ, which leads to spiritual freedom. Studying this epistle can help students to better appreciate the liberty offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul wrote Galatians (see Galatians 1:1).
Paul likely wrote his Epistle to the Galatians while traveling through Macedonia during his third missionary journey in about A.D. 55–57 (see Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles”).
“There is some uncertainty as to what churches were addressed in this epistle. They were either in northern Galatia, the district of which Ancyra was capital, or in the district on the borders of Phrygia and Galatia that was visited by Paul on his first missionary journey. In either case the Galatian churches were certainly visited by Paul on his second (Acts 16:6) and third (Acts 18:23) journeys” (Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles: Epistle to the Galatians”).
Paul wrote to the Saints in Galatia because he was deeply concerned that they were straying from the Lord by following the teachings of some who sought to “pervert the gospel” (see Galatians 1:6–7). Jewish Christians were teaching Gentile Christians the false doctrine that they had to be circumcised and observe the ritual requirements of the law of Moses in order to be saved (see Galatians 6:12; see also Acts 15:1). Some Galatian Saints had embraced the teachings of these people (see Galatians 4:10).
Paul’s main purposes in writing this epistle included:
Defending himself against the accusations of the false teachers who opposed him.
Teaching that all people, whether Jew or Gentile, are saved by the Atonement of Jesus Christ by placing their faith in Jesus Christ instead of relying upon the works of the law of Moses.
Clarifying the role of the law of Moses in God’s plan.
Distinguishing between the old covenant God made through Moses and the new covenant in Christ.
Calling upon the Saints to live by the Spirit.
The book of Galatians stands out as Paul’s most impassioned letter, in which he delivered a sharp rebuke to both the Church members who were straying and the false teachers who were leading them astray. Galatians contains Paul’s earliest written presentation of the doctrine of justification—we are not justified by the works of the law of Moses but by faith in Jesus Christ. The epistle contrasts “the works of the flesh” with “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16–25).
Galatians 1–2 Paul writes to the Galatian Saints because they had strayed from the Lord and embraced false teachings. He defends his calling as an Apostle by recounting his initial opposition to the Church and his conversion. He emphasizes that he received revelation directly from God and clarifies that his ministry to the Gentiles has been approved by the Apostles. He states that he once disagreed with Peter concerning the Gentile Saints. He teaches that people are not justified by the works of the law of Moses but by faith in Jesus Christ.
Galatians 3–4 Paul defends the gospel message. He teaches that Abraham was an example of a person who was justified by faith and not by the works of the law of Moses. Through the Atonement, Jesus Christ redeemed mankind from the curse of the law. The purpose of the law of Moses was to be a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” Through faith and baptism, Saints receive the blessings of the Atonement, enter the gospel covenant, become heirs of God through Christ, and are no longer servants but children of God.
Galatians 5–6 Paul calls upon the Saints to remain firm in the gospel covenant offered by Christ. Paul contrasts the life of a person who is involved in the “works of the flesh” with one who enjoys the “fruits of the Spirit.” He teaches that Saints should bear one another’s burdens and not be weary in doing good. We reap what we sow.